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Book-A-Day 2018 #211: Beyond Palomar by Gilbert Hernandez

A couple of weeks ago, writing about the previous Gilbert Hernandez Love and Rockets book Human Diastrophism , I said that those stories came from a ten-year span, because Hernandez was busy with other things as well during that time.

Well, Beyond Palomar  collects two of those things between one set of covers: two full-length graphic novels originally serialized in Love and Rockets, both of them related to the “Palomar” cycle of stories but not directly part of that main stream. First up is Poison River, originally appearing from 1988 through 1994, which tells the story of Luba’s life up to the point she arrived in Palomar in Heartbreak Soup. Then there’s Love & Rockets X (from 1989-1993), which is more complicated: it was the first of Gilbert’s stories to show some of his Palomar characters in Southern California — traditionally his brother’s Jaime’s turf [1] — but also featured a mostly new cast, most of whom would not return in any of his later stories. (Though two of them, seen in minor and mostly-comic roles here, turn up both in the not-exactly-canonical pornographic miniseries Birdland (from the same era) and then, a little later, as Luba’s sisters in stories collected in Human Diastrophism.

That’s a lot to unpack. It’s probably best if I tackle the two stories separately.

Poison River is substantially longer: a seventeen-part, nearly two-hundred-page cross between a family saga and a gangster epic. And it is very much the story of Luba’s life up to her mid-twenties: it opens with her as a small baby, at the point where her official father — the rich man her mother Maria was married to — realizes that Luba is actually the daughter of the field hand Eduardo. (Presumably, this is more obvious because Eduardo is Indio — native or mostly native — and the unnamed rich guy is of purer colonial stock.) Maria is cast out, with the baby, Eduardo, and her maid Karlota. They take refuge with Eduardo’s family, and live in semi-happy poverty for a while until Maria gets fed up and runs off.

(Maria is a deeply self-centered sensation-seeker who is never satisfied; she would have run off eventually. That’s just who she is.)

Luba bounces around the fringes of Eduardo’s family for her childhood, as part of the underclass of whatever Latin American country this is. (Hernandez deliberately keeps it unclear, but there are echoes of El Savador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and so on — it could be any of them, or a fictional melange of all of them.) And then, as a teenager, she meets the middle-aged conga player Peter Rios, who falls for her hard and marries her impetuously — right at the moment he gives up playing music and goes into managing a club.

The club is owned by gangsters, and Peter’s ambitions push him upward into their ranks — along with his former bandmate Blas, who follows him into that world for reasons that seem murky to begin with. The bulk of Poison River is the intertwined stories of the various power struggles among those gangsters, mostly having to do with their unreasoning hatred of mostly-unseen “leftists” who they fear will take over and ruin the country and with conflicts over sexual partners [2], and Luba’s growing up and sexual acting-out.

Well, everyone is sexually acting out, so she’s not alone. There’s a lot of sex and violence before Poison River is over. Hernandez combines them occasionally, which may upset some readers, but the sex is mostly consensual, even if often in secret between people whose partners will react horribly when the secret comes out. It’s also all R-rated sex; Hernandez was making Birdland around the same time, and that story is full of insertions and fluids and  really bizarre combinations. Poison River is more cable-TV than porn: we see some flaccid penises, and we can tell people are having sex, but we don’t see body parts interlocking.

All of those plots eventually link back to the past — Maria was part of the same circle of gangsters a generation before, until she fled with that rich husband, and she slept with more than one of them during that time — so we get flashbacks and various realizations of whose daughter Luba is and an occasional view into Maria’s life in the “now” of Poison River. (“Now” covers, if I had to guess, from Luba’s birth around 1950 to her entry into Palomar in the late 1970s, with most of the gangster plot taking place in late ’60s and early ’70s.)

The body count piles up, as it usually does in a gangster story. And, in the end, Luba is alone with her infant daughter Maricela and cousin Ofelia, about to enter Palomar for the first time. Poison River is entirely an origin story: telling us the secrets behind the things we already knew. It’s sordid and occasionally nasty and full of bad people doing bad things, but Hernandez makes it compelling.

The back quarter of Beyond Palomar, though, is less serious. The sixty-page Love & Rockets X takes an Altman-esque collection of overlapping plots (not that different from the Palomar stories, though each individual story there tended to be a bit more linear) to tell a less serious story of teens, rock bands, spoiled rich people, racial tension, and various love triangles (and more complicated shapes).

It does loop back to Palomar eventually, so we see a much older Luba and her growing family, but the most important Palomar character is a grown-up Maricela, who fled to Southern California with her girlfriend Riri. The two of them get caught up in the various plots — which are mostly driven by white Californians, particularly those connected to a lousy garage band called “Love and Rockets” — that all collide at a “big Hollywood party” where Love and Rockets is supposed to play.

This is Hernandez mostly in a lighter mode, though he still takes all of his characters seriously — and some of them have real problems. (At least one eating disorder, some white-power terrorists, Maricela and Riri’s relationship problems and worries about La Migra.) But, even in lighter mode, there are undertones: this seems to take place in 1989, but the racial tensions hint at riots to come and one character ends up in Iraq, which is explicitly mentioned. Love & Rockets X is an example of that old saying: if you want a happy ending, you have to know when to stop telling the story; all endings are sad if you go on long enough.

So we have two major Gilbert Hernandez stories here, either or both of which would be decent introductions to his work. Poison River gets quite plotty and continuity-heavy, but it’s all continuity within the one story, and that’s what he does anyway — if you don’t like that in Poison River, you won’t enjoy a lot of Hernandez’s work. Love & Rockets X might be an even better first Hernandez story: short, often funny, full of quirky characters, enough sex to keep it interesting, and that basically happy ending.

[1] Though, if you recall that Jaime’s main character Maggie was mostly in Texas during this time, you could work up a silly theory about geographic coverage and brotherly competition.

[2] This gets really complicated, with basically hetero men, openly gay men, and men who seem to mostly have sex with the presenting-as-women-but-physically-male dancers at Peter’s club, and I couldn’t begin to map it out or guess how they would all identify themselves. I couldn’t even tell you if those dancers — some of whom are quite important to the story — think of themselves as women or men or trans or each something different. Oh, and Peter himself has a fetish for bellybuttons, and not a whole lot of interest in “normal” sex, which frustrates the hot-to-trot Luba.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

The Law Is A Ass #434: Green Arrow’s Prosecutor Is Trying My Patience

If, as it has been said, a fish rots from the head down, then Team Arrow, from The CW’s Arrow, must be a twenty ton whale shark that’s decomposing from the head, Oliver (Green Arrow) Queen, down through the rotting body that is Green Arrow’s support group, Team Arrow. Why I call them rotten is something we’ll go into as “The Law Is a Ass” continues to suffer the migraine that is the Arrow episode “Docket No. 11-19-41-73.”

Ollie, a super hero in Star City was on trial for violating Star City’s anti-vigilante law and for some homicides and assaults occasioned by the fact that on occasion he shot people with arrows. I started writing about Ollie’s trial last column. I didn’t get too far. I covered the facts that Ollie’s trial was in Judge McGarvey’s courtroom; that McGarvey was under the thumb of Ricardo Diaz, the crime lord who rather openly ruled Star City; that Alexa Van Owen was the prosecutor; and that Jean Loring was defense counsel. I mentioned that Alexa called John Diggle, who was secretly the second-in-command of Team Arrow, and that John, with Ollie’s full knowledge and approval, perjured himself by testifying Ollie was not the Green Arrow.

I pointed out that Alexa wasn’t doing a very good job, because she called witnesses she had not interviewed before trial, so did not know what their testimony would be. I think the second thing they teach you in law school is don’t call a witness about whose testimony you’re uncertain and don’t ask a question whose answer you don’t already know. (The first thing they teach you is how to find the Tuition Office.)

So did Alexa’s job performance improve as the trial went on? Is the Dalai Lama Catholic?

Alexa’s next witness was Dinah Drake, a detective in the Star City Police Department, and also secretly the super hero Black Canary. And guess who didn’t lock down Dinah’s testimony before calling her as a witness?

Did you guess the prosecutor who didn’t know in advance that Dinah was going to perjure herself and testify that Oliver Queen wasn’t Green Arrow. How do I know that Alexa didn’t know what Dinah was going say in advance? Logic and the Rules of Evidence.

If Alexa had interviewed Dinah and learned Dinah was going to say Ollie wasn’t Green Arrow, then Alexa wouldn’t have called her. Not calling a witness whose testimony will contradict your case is so basic that not even Dr. McCoy would have quibbled over the logic. If, on the other hand, Alexa had interviewed Dinah and Dinah had told her Ollie was Green Arrow, then Alexa would have had a prior inconsistent statement from Dinah, which she could have used to impeach Dinah’s testimony.

The Rules of Evidence in most states allow a party in a trial to impeach its own witnesses. When the party calling the witness wants to impeach it’s own witness with a prior inconsistent statement, that party must first show that it was surprised by the testimony and that the testimony has affirmatively damaged its case. Or, put in language that even Cousin Vinny could understand, “Hey, Judge, I didn’t know da witness wuz gonna say dat, and it hoits my case.”

If Alexa had a prior statement from Dinah saying Ollie was Green Arrow, she could have argued to Judge McGarvey that Dinah’s testimony both surprised her and hurt her case. After McGarvey agreed — and even this bleeding-heart former defense attorney, agrees Alexa could show surprise and affirmative damage – Alexa could have impeached Dinah with the prior inconsistent statement. That Alexa either didn’t either know what Dinah was going to say or failed to impeach Dinah only shows that she didn’t interview Dinah before trial.

Oh, Alexa did impeach Dinah, but her method of impeachment was just as incompetent as her tactic of not interviewing her witnesses before trial. Alexa asked Dinah, over objection, whether she had murdered a drug-dealer named Sean Sonas. (Dinah had; trust me. I’ve seen all the Arrow episodes so I saw her do it.) Dinah declined to answer on 5th Amendment grounds.

Courts have held it’s improper to call a witness you know will invoke his or her 5th Amendment rights, because it is an attempt to build one’s case out of what the jury will infer from the witness’s invocation of the 5th Amendment. It’s just as improper to impeach a witness by asking a question you know will cause the witness to invoke the 5th Amendment. The jury will infer the witness must have committed the crime that the witness refuses to testify about and disregard the testimony of a witness it infers to be a criminal.

When Alexa asked Dinah whether Dinah murdered Sonas, she violated this principle. Not only should she never have asked the question, Judge McGarvey should have sustained the objection and never allowed the question to be asked. But, like I said earlier, McGarvey was a Black Friday judge; bought and paid for at bargain basement prices.

Alexa’s next witness was Rene Ramirez, secretly the Team Arrow member called Wild Dog. Rene originally planned to follow Team Arrow’s putrescent perjury party line and say Ollie wasn’t Green Arrow. (Meaning, once again, Alexa probably didn’t interview him before trial.) Rene changed his mind when Diaz threatened to harm Rene’s daughter, if he didn’t testify “properly.”

So for the first – and only – time in her trial, Alexa had a witness who did testify that Oliver Queen was Green Arrow. Then Alexa got to the heart of the various homicide and assault charges leveled against Ollie. She asked Rene if he ever saw Green Arrow kill or maim people. Rene testified that he had, but there were too many occurrences for him to estimate how many people it was.

With that triumphant testimony, Alexa rested her case.

And promptly lost every homicide and assault count leveled against Ollie. Or should have, anyway. This is a TV trial, remember, so we can’t expect it actually to follow such things as burden of proof or proof beyond a reasonable doubt. We can hope, but we shouldn’t really expect it.

See, in a trial for homicide and assault, it isn’t enough for a witness to testify that he saw the defendant kill or maim lots of people. The witness has to testify that he saw the defendant kill or maim the specific victims named in the indictments. Or, if not that, how about the testimony of the medical examiner that he pulled green arrows out of the corpses of people Oliver Queen was charged with killing? Something, anything, to prove that Ollie killed the people named in the indictment as opposed to a general murder of murder victims.

Had a competent defense counsel moved for a verdict of acquittal on the homicide and assault counts because the prosecution failed to offer any evidence that the defendant actually killed or assaulted the named victims, it would have been granted. Naturally Jean Loring, didn’t even go through the motions by making the motion. After all, where would the drama in the episode be if a prosecutor as inept as Alexa Van Owen were facing a competent defense attorney?

So after spending a couple of weeks describing what a lousy prosecutor Alexa Van Owen was, is it now time for me to write about what a lousy defense attorney Jean Loring was?


Next time will be.

Meaning this column has run out of what the newspaper game calls column inches. We’ll have to talk about what a lousy attorney Jean Loring was next column. And probably the column after that. There was so much barristerly balderdash in “Docket No. 11-19-41-73” that I’m afraid we’re in for a long haul down the halls of justice.

Gail Simone on the passing of Bongo Comics

Gail Simone, comics writer, chief architect of Lion Forge’s Catalyst Prime line, and contributor to Mine! had many thoughts on the closing of Bongo Comics. With her permission, we reprint her essay here.

So, this is painful to talk about.

Apparently, Bongo Comics is shutting down production, and the last issue of Simpsons Comics will be issue 245, after 25 years.

I don’t know the particulars of it, I haven’t asked for inside knowledge. But it’s a shame for a number of reasons.

Just culturally, Simpsons were often the ONLY comics available on some newsstands. They were also one of the few non-superhero books to have loyal followers AND casual readers. They employed top-notch creative and editorial people.

And personally, they were the first professional publisher to hire a particular red-headed hairdresser from the Oregon boonies.

I never thought I would be a writer. It was drilled into my head as a kid that I would never make a living from it. And certainly, I had things going against me by many accounts; wrong gender, wrong background, wrong home base, on and on.

Bongo didn’t care about any of that, they only cared that I was funny and could tell a story. They never failed to treat me with respect, dignity and kindness even though I was a nobody from nowhere.

I remember, I had been writing a comedy column on CBR for a while. Many Comics editors asked me to pitch for them and I turned them all down flat, I just didn’t think I was a “real writer” and me getting a job would take one away from a REAL writer, whatever that is.

Cartoonist Scott Shaw had read and liked my column. He said, Bongo needed writers, and I should call them. I said no. He said, well, it doesn’t matter because I’ve already told them about you and they’re calling tomorrow.

I sat up all night trying to figure out what to do. Then I finally decided I had to take the chance, because it was never going to come again. I took the call. And it changed my life.

They were kind, and they were patient. They asked me to send a few springboards, they had to explain what that was. I sent 25. They liked nearly all of them.

After that, they helped me learn how to outline, how to write for a cartoonist, and all about the vocabulary of comics. If I had been thrown into the thresher at a bigger publisher, I would likely have been mangled up before I could ever learn all that. But Bongo was like that, they cared.

And being female was never an issue, never. I remember after my first couple stories, I got a note saying they wanted to call. I was worried that it was bad news, and this lovely dream would end. I worried a lot back then, it all seemed so precarious.

And they called, and said, “Gail, we are bumping you to our highest page rate. Our best writer deserves our best rate.” I sat down and cried, not because of the money, but because of the respect and kindness. And I stress, this was fifteen years ago, when it still was a little more unusual to see female writers.

I tell that story not about because it says anything about me, I tell it because that’s how they operated. No drama, no goofy politics or power struggles. They just wanted to put out good comics and they treated people with dignity and respect. And it made me want to be a Comics writer forever.

I have a couple more short memories.

First, I remember they invited me to come see their offices…it was very plain from the outside, intentionally so. But once you got past security, it was a huge building with seemingly every square inch of wall space covered with Simpsons art and merch. It was Willy Wonka for cartoons. They had a room with all the Simpsons arcade and pinball games. Weirdly, the only room that WASN’T covered in that stuff was Matt Groening’s office.

At one point, they said they would take all the space on my schedule I could give them. I wrote comics, tons of Sunday strips, and pieces for their big collections, and more. For a while, they were hot on the idea of Lisa Simpsons child mystery novels, with Ralph as her Watson. Somewhere, the first chapters of those exist, but they never happened as a published work.

I remember meeting Matt Groening. He was very kind, especially about my Sunday strips. It all seemed surreal, Simpsons wasn’t just the funniest thing on tv, it was the BEST thing, as well, and the world loved them. And I got to write them.

Bongo was always run by Bill Morrison and Terry Delegeane. Two of the most stand-up guys in comics. If they said something, you immediately knew it was true. And both had a great eye for what would make Bongo great. I miss working with them.

Two of my all-time favorite scripts were written for them…an issue length take about the Simpsons going to Scotland for a golf tournament…I was so PROUD of that story. You may have seen the oft-memed on-panel fight between Grant Morrison and Mark Millar.

And the other is a Treehouse or Horror story I wrote, that the amazing Jill Thompson drew, about evil cereal mascots. It might still be my favorite single story I’ve done.

All of it happened because of Bongo. They had some tight restrictions given to them by Fox, but they still encouraged risk and whimsy.

Even forgetting the Treehouse or Horror collections, they routinely had talent like Ian Boothby, Chuck Dixon, Scott Shaw, and Ty Templeton. Every issue achieved and maintained a high quality, they just didn’t waste time with mediocrity.

I’m sad to see them go. I wish more mainstream readers had read the books, because in 25 years, they published some of the funniest, smartest and best-drawn comics out there.

And they gave me a chance and taught me how to do this weird thing I love so much.

So I am forever grateful.

Thank you, Bongo. You will be missed!

All 3 Predator films score 4K Releases, out in 2 Weeks

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment presents PREDATOR, arriving on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital and Movies Anywhere August 7.

Deep in the jungle, several bodies have been discovered skinned and hanging from trees although who or what could have done this is a mystery. Military covert specialist Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his team are called in to eliminate the threat, but once in the heart of the menacing jungle, they discover something far worse than they could ever have imagined, the Predator alien which has come to earth with cloaking technology, extensive combat skills and a desire to hunt humans for sport.

PREDATOR 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray bonus features include deleted scenes and outtakes, audio commentary by Director John McTiernan, Inside the Predator featurettes and more. A limited-edition Steelbook collectible will be available exclusively at Best Buy.

Fans can also take home the new PREDATOR 3-Movie Collection, including PREDATOR, PREDATOR 2 and PREDATORS. In PREDATOR, Arnold Schwarzenegger wages an all-out war against a force more powerful and deadly than any on earth. Then in PREDATOR 2, hardheaded cop Danny Glover battles the predator in the urban jungle of Los Angeles. Finally, in PREDATORS, Adrien Brody leads a group of elite warriors who find themselves on an alien planet targeted by a vicious new breed of predators. It’s the ultimate showdown between hunter and prey!
In addition to the wide availability of the PREDATOR 3-Movie Collection on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD, a limited-edition Steelbook version of the collection will be available on Blu-ray at Best Buy and FYE.

PREDATOR 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray Bonus Features Include:

  • Predator: Evolution of a Species-Hunters of Extreme Perfection
  • Audio Commentary by Director John McTiernan
  • Text Commentary by Film Historian Eric Lichtenfeld
  • If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It: The Making of Predator
  • Inside the Predator Featurettes
  • Special Effects Featurettes
  • Short Takes with the Filmmakers
  • Deleted Scenes and Outtakes
  • Photo Gallery and Predator Profile

PREDATOR 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD Specifications:
Street Date: August 7, 2018
Screen Format: Widescreen 1.85:1
Audio: 4K UHD: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French DTS 5.1
Blu-ray: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English Dolby Surround 4.0, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French DTS 5.1
DVD: English DTS, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Subtitles: 4K UHD: English SDH, Spanish, French
Blu-ray: English SDH, Spanish, French
DVD: English SDH, Spanish
Total Run Time: 07 Minutes
U.S. Rating: R (Restricted)
Closed Captioned:   Yes

PREDATOR 3 Movie Collection 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD Specifications:
Street Date: August 7, 2018
Screen Format: Widescreen 1.85:1
Audio: 4K UHD:
                               Predator: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English Dolby Surround 4.0, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French DTS 5.1
                               Predator 2: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English Dolby Surround, Spanish Stereo, French Dolby Surround 5.1
                               Predators: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
                              Predator: English DTS, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
                             Predator 2: English Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Stereo, French Dolby Surround Predators: English Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Subtitles:              4K UHD:
Predator: English SDH, Spanish, French
Predator 2: English SDH, Spanish
Predators: English SDH, Spanish

All 3 Films: English SDH, Spanish
Total Run Time:      322 Minutes
U.S. Rating:            R (Restricted)
Closed Captioned:  Yes

Book-A-Day 2018 #205: Roswell Walks Among Us by Bill Morrison

There are some comics that look like they should be broadly popular, but aren’t really. I don’t mean everyone’s favorite parlor game, Why My Favorites Should Be Everyone’s Favorites. I mean that there are comics that look like the kind of stories Americans love: broad, funny, with sturdy vaguely stereotypical characters, easy-to-follow plots, clean lines, and heart to spare. And those comics feel like they’re similar to the kinds of things Middle America likes in other media: movies about sports teams that win despite the odds, TV shows about a bunch of co-workers who make the world better, songs with way too much melisma and emotion to match, news stories about pets who cross continents to get back to their loving owners.

Those comics usually aren’t all that popular, because the broad Middle American audience isn’t the one reading comics, mostly. But they feel like they’re a popular thing, even when they’re not.

Bill Morrison’s Roswell Walks Among Us  is one of those comics.

It collects a three-issue 1996 miniseries, Roswell, Little Green Man, and a four-part follow-up (“How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down On the Ant Farm?”) that was a backup in Simpsons Comics soon afterward, all written and drawn by Morrison with colors by Nathan Kane and letters by Tim Harkins.

The main and title character is the guy on the cover, an alien journalist from the planet Zoot who got stuck on a spaceship to Earth by accident and then stranded here when that ship blew up at an inopportune moment. (This may make him sound particularly accident-prone, but neither of those things was his fault.) Oh, and his real name is *#@!!#, which — since this is a comic book — is a horrible swear-world on Earth.

Anyway, he ends up in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, and wacky hijinks ensue. In fact, the story starts with the wacky hijinks, and only later doubles back to explain Who He Is and How He Came To Be.

He’s chased by rednecks and befriended by a hot redheaded waitress (Julienne Fryes) who is also a world-class inventor, as well as the giant-rabbit-riding cowboy (Jasper Kudzu) who wants to get into the pants of that waitress — or would if he were less well-mannered and this were less of an all-ages comic. The Army wants to capture him, of course, and they have a particularly histrionic ex-Nazi mad scientist who will do fiendish experiments on Roswell if they do.

There is quite a lot of running about at top speed, as you might guess. It is all good-hearted, and Roswell has a clean, pleasant line in a Simpsons Comics/Disney/animation-inspired style. And it does all feel like the kind of things that Mr and Mrs Middle America would lap up if it were in a medium that they paid attention to.

It is nice and pleasant and good clean fun and not all that much my kind of thing. Your mileage may vary.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Batman The Animated Series Blu-ray Box Set in October

BURBANK, CA (July 23, 2018) – Batman: The Animated Series, the most acclaimed animated super hero television series in history, arrives this fall in an all-encompassing package befitting its revered place in the annals of fan-favorite entertainment. Remastered for the first time since its broadcast airing from 1992-1995, Batman: The Complete Animated Series Deluxe Limited Edition will be available from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment on Digital and in a stunning Blu-ray™ box set ($112.99 SRP) on October 16, 2018.

Produced by Warner Bros. Animation, the Emmy Award-winning series captured the imaginations of generations, setting the standard for super hero storytelling for the past quarter-century with its innovative designs, near-perfect voice cast and landmark approach to DC’s iconic characters and stories.  Batman: The Complete Animated Series Deluxe Limited Edition box set includes all 109 thrilling episodes, plus two bonus disks containing the recently-remastered, fan favorite animated films Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero.

The impressive Batman: The Complete Animated Series Deluxe Limited Edition package features approximately 2,700 minutes of entertainment spread over 10 Blu-ray™ discs, plus the two bonus discs – not counting 11 specially-selected episodes with audio commentaries by cast and crew. In addition, Batman: The Complete Animated Series Deluxe Limited Edition includes an exclusive ensemble of collectibles highlighted by three Funko mini-figurines (Batman, Joker, Harley Quinn) and seven beautifully-designed lenticular art cards. The entire box set is housed in a stunning layflat-book with a dazzling slipcase.

This ultimate collectors Blu-ray box set will be individually numbered for a Limited Edition release of 30,000. More than 2,000 copies were pre-ordered within the first 24 hours of availability on Amazon.

Batman: The Animated Series had a ground-breaking initial run from 1992-1995, garnering a Primetime Emmy Award in 1993 for Outstanding Animated Program, along with three additional Emmy wins and 13 total Emmy nominations.

The creative team behind the breakthrough animated series was headed by the producing quartet of Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Alan Burnett and Eric Radomski, alongside executive producers Jean MacCurdy and Tom Ruegger. Shirley Walker composed the award-winning score, while 8-time Emmy Award winner Andrea Romano guided an unparalleled collection of actors as casting/dialogue director. Kevin Altieri, Boyd Kirkland and Frank Paur handled the majority of episodic animation direction, along with Dan Riba, Dick Seabast, Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski and Kent Butterworth.

The Batman: The Animated Series cast rivaled that of any animated series in its time. The cast featured actors with laurels totaling one Academy Award, 11 Oscar nominations, 65 Emmy Awards, 283 Emmy nods, 15 Gold Globe Awards, 85 Golden Globe nominations, four Grammy Awards, a Peabody Award, and 17 actors forever honored with stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Kevin Conroy led the voice cast as Batman, quickly and forever establishing himself as the fan-favorite voice of The Dark Knight. The core cast featured Golden Globe Award winner Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Alfred Pennyworth, Robert Hastings as Commissioner Gordon, Loren Lester as Robin, and Robert Costanzo as Detective Harvey Bullock.

The extraordinary villains guest cast was led by Mark Hamill as the now-preeminent voice of The Joker, along with Richard Moll as Harvey Dent, Adrienne Barbeau as Catwoman, and Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn – the first character to be created initially for animation (by Bruce Timm & Paul Dini) to jump to comic books. Harley Quinn is now recognizable worldwide in film, television, videogames and comics and is one of DC’s most popular female characters, and Super Villains.

Other notable guest cast included actor/singer/songwriter Paul Williams as Penguin, Melissa Gilbert as Barbara Gordon, George Dzundza as Scarface, Brock Peters as Lucius Fox, Ed Asner as Roland Daggett, David Warner as Ra’s al Ghul, Marilu Henner as Veronica Vreeland, Ron Perlman as Clayface, Roddy McDowall as the Mad Hatter, Helen Slater as Talia al Ghul, Diana Muldaur as Dr. Leslie Thompkins, John Glover as Edward Nygma, Marc Singer as Dr. Kirk Langstrom, Pat Fraley as Bat-Mite, Kate Mulgrew as Red Claw, Ed Begley Jr. as Germs, Michael Ansara as Dr. Victor Fries, Harry Hamlin as Anthony Romulus, Alan Rachins as the Clock King, and Adam West as Simon Trent.

Also lending their voices were entertainment luminaries Elisabeth Moss, LeVar Burton, Elizabeth Montgomery, Paul Winfield, Seth Green, Jeffrey Tambor, Tim Curry, Michael York, Megan Mullally, Alan Young, Brad Garrett, Heather Locklear, Ken Howard, Joseph Campanella, Matt Frewer, Dick Gautier, Treat Williams, Richard Dysart, Peter Scolari, Meredith MacRae, Rene Auberjonois, Tim Matheson, Joe Piscopo, Thomas Wilson, Bud Cort, William Windom, Bill Mumy, Robby Benson, Dorian Harewood, Lindsay Crouse, John Rhys-Davies, Bess Armstrong, Michael Gross, Henry Silva, Paul Dooley, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Micky Dolenz, Ernie Hudson, David Lander, Kevin McCarthy, Roscoe Lee Browne, Peter Strauss, JoBeth Williams, Jeffrey Jones, Loretta Swit, William Katt, Nichelle Nichols, Alan Oppenheimer, Hector Elizondo, Katherine Helmond, Robert Picardo, Melissa Manchester, Jean Smart, Stephanie Zimbalist, Brian George, Bruce Weitz, Vincent Schiavelli, Richard Jeni, Andrea Martin, and Adam Ant.

Batman: The Animated Series set the standard for super hero animation for decades to come, and we’re proud to present this remastered box set to allow new generations – and the series’ vast, avid fanbase – to enjoy this landmark entertainment in the highest quality possible,” said Mary Ellen Thomas, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Vice President, Family & Animation Marketing. “This is truly a box set for the ages with an array of bonus features to perfectly complement all 109 episodic masterpieces – plus the full-length, remastered films Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero.”

Batman: The Complete Animated Series Deluxe Limited Edition Enhanced Content includes 25 featurettes – led by an all-new, 60+ minute definitive Batman: The Animated Series making-of documentary, “The Heart of Batman” – as well as introductions to five episodes by producer Bruce Timm, and commentary on 12 episodes by various combinations of the production team: Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski, Paul Dini, Kevin Altieri, Michael Reaves, Boyd Kirkland, Shirley Walker, Glen Murakami, Dan Riba, and James Tucker.

Batman: The Complete Animated Series Deluxe Limited Edition Enhanced Content

The Heart of Batman (All-New Documentary) – A rare gathering of talent defined Batman for a generation. Twenty-five years later, Batman: The Animated Series continues to inspire fans and myth makers all over the world. This hour-long documentary takes an in-depth look at the renowned storytellers behind the landmark series.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (Feature-Length Film) – When the city’s most feared gangsters are systematically eliminated, the Caped Crusader is blamed. But prowling the Gotham night is a shadowy new villain, the Phantasm, a sinister figure with some link to Batman’s past. Can the Dark Knight elude the police, capture the Phantasm and clear his own name? Unmasking the Phantasm is just one of the twists in this dazzling animated feature. Discover revelations about Batman’s past, his archrival the Joker, and Batman’s most grueling battle ever — the choice between his love for a beautiful woman and his vow to be the defender of right. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is “a mystery that is genuinely absorbing, suspenseful and moving” (The Cincinnati Enquirer).

Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero (Feature-Length Film) – Batman faces his coolest case ever when Mr. Freeze returns to Gotham City and kidnaps Batgirl. While unraveling the mystery of Batgirl’s disappearance, Batman and Robin discover that she is part of Mr. Freeze’s frigid plan to save his dying wife – no matter what the cost. With time running out, Batman and Robin must find Gotham’s most cold-blooded villain and prevent him from putting Batgirl “on ice” forever. Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero includes all of the special features included on the original release: All four episodes of the animated “Mr. Freeze Saga” – Heart of Ice (Batman: The Animated Series), Deep Freeze (Batman: The Animated Series), Cold Comfort (The New Batman Adventures) and Meltdown (Batman Beyond); Art of Batman: Music Montage (Featurette); Get the Picture: How to Draw Batman (Featurette); Arkham Asylum: Examine the Top-Secret Case Files of the Dark Knight’s Many Foes (Featurette); and an Audio Commentary featuring Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Glen Murakami and James Tucker.

The Dark Knight’s First Night Pilot Promo: Hosted by Bruce Timm (Featurette) – Witness the 1991 Batman promo reel as producers Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski discuss the origins of Batman: The Animated Series.

Batman: The Legacy Continues Retrospective (Featurette) – DC luminaries join BTAS creators as they explore the combination of exquisite design and in-depth storytelling that helped create a once in a generation show.

Robin Rising: How the Boy Wonder’s Character Evolved (Featurette) – The evolution of Dick Grayson from young ward to crime fighter.

Gotham’s Guardians: The Stalwart Supporting Characters (Featurette) – Batman is not the only hero safeguarding Gotham City. This documentary focuses on the importance of the Dark Knight’s allies in the Batman mythology.

Voices of the Knight (Featurette) – Actors Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy, Adriene Barbeau, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., and Andrea Romano discuss the process of bringing their iconic characters to life.

Gotham’s New Knight (Featurette) – Barbara Gordon swings into focus in this exciting look at Batman’s trusted ally and equal, Batgirl.

Video Commentary: “House and Garden” – Watch along as Producer Bruce Timm, Director Boyd Kirkland and writer Paul Dini take viewers behind the scenes of an exciting episode of Batman: The Animated Series.

In-Movie Experience – Watch along as Producer Bruce Timm, Director Boyd Kirkland and writer Paul Dini take viewers behind the scenes of an exciting episode of Batman: The Animated Series.

Arkham Asylum: Examine the Top-Secret Case Files of the Dark Knight’s Many Foes: Introduction (Featurette) – Bruce Timm, Dan Riba, James Tucker, Paul Dini, Alan Burnett and Andrea Romano discuss Gotham’s most popular rogues.

Arkham Asylum: Examine the Top-Secret Case Files of the Dark Knight’s Many Foes: Clayface (Featurette) – Clayface personnel file revealed by Bruce Timm, Dan Riba and James Tucker.

Arkham Asylum: Examine the Top-Secret Case Files of the Dark Knight’s Many Foes: Harley Quinn (Featurette) – Alan Burnett, Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski, Paul Dini and James Tucker discuss bringing Harley Quinn to life.

Arkham Asylum: Examine the Top-Secret Case Files of the Dark Knight’s Many Foes: The Joker (Featurette) – Alan Burnett, Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski, Paul Dini, Andrea Romano and Dan Riba discuss Mark Hamill’s inimitable Joker.

Arkham Asylum: Examine the Top-Secret Case Files of the Dark Knight’s Many Foes: Mr. Freeze (Featurette) – Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Andrea Romano and Dan Riba discuss MR. Freeze and the Heart and Ice Origin story.

Arkham Asylum: Examine the Top-Secret Case Files of the Dark Knight’s Many Foes: The Penquin (Featurette) – Bruce Timm, Andrea Romano, Alan Burnett, James Tucker, Dan Riba and Eric Radomski discuss The Penguin.

Arkham Asylum: Examine the Top-Secret Case Files of the Dark Knight’s Many Foes: Poison Ivy (Featurette) – Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, Andrea Romano, Alan Burnett, Dan Riba and Eric Radomski discuss designing Poison Ivy

Arkham Asylum: Examine the Top-Secret Case Files of the Dark Knight’s Many Foes: Ra’s Al Ghul (Featurette) – Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, and Dan Riba discuss why Ra’s Al Ghul is such an exciting villain.

Arkham Asylum: Examine the Top-Secret Case Files of the Dark Knight’s Many Foes: The Riddler (Featurette) – This file discusses The Riddler and how creators differentiated him from the Batman ‘66 Riddler with: Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, Andrea Romano, Eric Radomski and Dan Riba.

Arkham Asylum: Examine the Top-Secret Case Files of the Dark Knight’s Many Foes: Scarecrow (Featurette) – Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, Andrea Romano and Dan Riba discuss the various iterations of the Scarecrow.

Arkham Asylum: Examine the Top-Secret Case Files of the Dark Knight’s Many Foes: Two Face (Featurette) – Discussing Batman’s key nemesis are Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, James Tucker, and Dan Riba.

Arkham Asylum: Examine the Top-Secret Case Files of the Dark Knight’s Many Foes: Ventriloquist & Scarface (Featurette) – Lively discussion about one of Batman’s most unique villains with creators Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, Eric Radomski, Andrea Romano, and Dan Riba.

“Concepting Harley Quinn” (Featurette) – Producer Paul Dini discusses how Harley Quinn was incorporated into the series.

Tour of the Batcave (Featurettes):

  • Batman
  • Utility Belt
  • Bat-Vehicles
  • Alfred

Audio Commentaries:

“On Leather Wings” – Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski.

“Heart of Ice” – Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, and Eric Radomski.

“Robin’s Reckoning, Part One” – Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski

“Heart of Steel, Part Two” – Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski and Kevin Altieri

“Almost Got ‘Im” – Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski and Paul Dini

“Harley and Ivy” – Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski and Boyd Kirkland

“Read My Lips” – Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Michael Reaves, Boyd Kirkland and Shirley Walker.

“Harlequinade” – Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Shirley Walker and Eric Radomski

“Over The Edge” – Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Glen Murakami, and James Tucker.

“Critters” – Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Dan Riba, Glen Murakami, and James Tucker.

“Legends of the Dark Knight” – Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Dan Riba, Glen Murakami, and James Tucker.

The Law Is A Ass #433: Green Arrow Wants Me To Trial Little Tenderness

The Law Is A Ass #433: Green Arrow Wants Me To Trial Little Tenderness

I think I’m losing all respect for Oliver (The Green Arrow) Queen. And considering when the TV series Arrow started he was a stone killer except he killed people not stones, I didn’t have very much respect for him to begin with.

We’re talking about the Arrow episode “Docket No. 11-19-41-73.” Keep those numbers handy; we’ll be talking about them for a while. And, no, I wouldn’t advise playing them in your local lottery. Why should those numbers be winners? Nothing else about this episode was.

Ricardo Diaz, the crime lord who had taken control of Star City earlier in the season felt it wasn’t enough that he used the corrupt politicians under his control to impeach Oliver as the Mayor of Star City, he also had his underlings prosecute Oliver. Diaz wanted Oliver to spend the rest of his life in prison, while Ollie watched Diaz ravage Star City. Diaz even brought in a special prosecutor, Alexa Van Owen with her 99% conviction rate, to prosecute Ollie. And that still wasn’t the worst thing Diaz did. Considering Kirk Acevedo, the actor playing Diaz, never saw a piece of scenery in the Arrow sets that he didn’t treat as a blue plate special, the worst thing Diaz did was emote.

Now you may be wondering what crimes Star City was prosecuting Ollie for in the case and episode called “Docket No. 11-19-41-73.” Wonder no more, I’m here to tell you.

That is, I would be here to tell you, if the episode had bothered telling us. I know Ollie was being prosecuted for violating Star City’s anti-vigilante ordinance by being The Green Arrow. I know that, because it’s the one count in Ollie’s indictment the episode did bother to mention.

Actually, there were probably multiple counts of illegal vigilantism. Star City Council enacted the anti-vigilante ordinance early in Season 6, so any time Ollie went out as the Green Arrow after that – which, considering the show is called Arrow, was every episode – that was a new, and separately-indictable violation of the ordinance. But there still had to be more.

Laws passed by city councils, as opposed to laws enacted by state legislatures, are misdemeanors not felonies. I’ve mentioned this before and I wish TV people would remember it. Misdemeanors don’t normally carry sentences in excess of one year. Felonies do. Prosecutor Van Owen offered Ollie a plea bargain with a fifteen-year agreed sentence. So, Ollie had to be charged with at least one major felony for an agreed sentence of fifteen years to be considered a bargain.

But what felony? The show didn’t tell us specifically, but it did give us enough information to let me make a law-school-educated guess. I’m guessing there were multiple indictments for the many murders and assaults with a deadly weapon that Green Arrow committed by shooting actual arrows into actual people over the course of the show.

There had to be some murder indictments somewhere in mix, because Ms. Van Owen’s offered plea bargain was to a single count of First Degree Manslaughter. Courts have ruled that a person cannot plead guilty to a crime, if it is not a lesser included offense to one of the crimes charged in the indictment. Pleading to crimes which are not lesser included offenses of one of the indicted offenses violates the defendant’s constitutional right to receive notice.

Manslaughter is not a lesser included offense of some “Don’t Be a Vigilante” Ordinance. First of all, manslaughter is a felony and, as I said, the anti-vigilante ordinance would be a misdemeanor. So manslaughter is a higher-degree crime than the anti-vigilante ordinance. It can’t be a lesser included offense.

Moreover, manslaughter wouldn’t contain any elements in common with anti-vigilante. One can be a vigilante without killing people. Hell, as brutal as he is, Batman does it all the time. So manslaughter also isn’t an included offense of anti-vigilante laws. On the other hand, manslaughter is a crime of lesser degree than murder and does contain common elements with murder. So if Ollie was offered a plea to manslaughter, he has to have been indicted for one, or more, murder.

After Ollie turned down the plea offer, the trial started. So did my note taking. Two legal pads and several Bics later, I was ready to start writing about the trial. Lucky me.

As her first witness, prosecutor Alexa Van Owen called Dr. Elisa Schwartz. Green Arrow had once brought fellow super hero Black Canary into Dr. Schwartz’s hospital with a knife wound and Dr. Schwartz was the attending physician. Alexa asked Dr. Schwartz that, as she was close enough to Green Arrow to determine his identity, whose face did she see? Dr. Schwartz answered that she was too busy treating her patient and didn’t pay enough attention to Green Arrow to determine his true identity.

Uh, Alexa, didn’t you vet your witness so that you’d know the answer to that all-important question before calling her? No. Okay. Still, a mistake that fundamental makes me doubt that 99% conviction rate. Seriously, on L.A. Law Susan Dey also played a prosecutor named Van Owen who would have done a better job. Hell, Susan Dey’s other big role, Laurie Partridge, would have done a better job.

Alexa’s next witness was John Diggle, Oliver Queen’s personal bodyguard, and also secretly Spartan, the second-in-command of Team Arrow. She asked John if Oliver Queen were the Green Arrow. He said no. And as the head of Oliver Queen’s security, John would know whether Ollie was Green Arrow. Again I’m forced to ask, did Alexa not vet her witnesses before calling them so that she’d know how he would answer her questions?

Okay, I admit that John perjured himself (with the full knowledge and approval of Ollie) because Ollie was the Green Arrow and John knew that. But Alexa didn’t know that. All she knew was that she posed a question to John and she didn’t know that he wasn’t going to give her the answer she was hoping he’d give her.

But Alexa impeached John’s damaging testimony. She pointed out all the injuries he had incurred in his years as Ollie’s body guard, so he couldn’t have been that good a security officer. Right, a body guard got injured protecting his charge; aren’t they supposed to do that? So John was conscientious in his job, that certainly proves he’s an unreliable witness the jury should ignore.

Did I say Laurie Partridge could have done a better job than Alexa? Hell, the Partridge Family dog Simone could have done a better job. At least he knows about vetting.

I’d tell you who Alexa called as her next witness, but this column is already pretty long and, when it comes to covering old Docket No. 11-19-41-73, I’m like someone who took sandpaper to his tablet computer. I’ve only scratched the Surface. (I’m not sure I’m even up to the third one yet.)

So, I’ll follow the time-honored tradition that all TV courts use when they need to go to commercial break. This column is in recess and will reconvene next week.

REVIEW: Ready Player One

Ready Player One burst out of nowhere and has become a beloved novel, already taught in schools around the country, making Ernest Cline a hero in the very pop culture the novel celebrates. He took his personal Golden Age and wrote an adventure celebrating the icons of the late 1970s and 1980s, the era when computers and video games changed the world, ushering in the Age of the Geek.

Of course it was going to be turned into a movie but the question is could any film essentially capture the brio of the novel, and could anyone secure all the rights necessary to populate the film with the very icons required to make the virtual world of the Oasis plausible? When Warner Bros. won the bidding war, they wisely turned it over to the one man whose name alone would help secure those rights as well as make a faithful film: Steven Spielberg.

The eagerly awaited film adaptation arrived this spring, earned some favorable reviews and enough box office receipts to make it a modest success, nowhere near the phenomenon the source material was. If you missed it or want to study it frame by frame, the disc release is coming tomorrow from Warner Home Entertainment.

The world has gone to hell by 2044 so people have retreated from reality by entering the Oasis, a virtual reality where you could be anything and do anything as long as you paid your utility bill. James Halliday (Mark Rylance), the co-creator and public face of the Oasis, died and left behind the ultimate video game: find three keys hidden in the Oasis and the winner inherits running the company that owns the game. Nolan Sorrento (NAME) wants to win so his Innovative Online Industries could rule the world and throws countless resources at the problem.

What he doesn’t count on is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a lonely teen who thrives in the Oasis as Parzival but really just wants out of the “Stacks”, the vertical Ohio ghetto where he lives with his aunt. He’s the next generation Halliday, having studied everything about the great man, making the elder’s favorites, his favorites. As he races to unlock the mysteries with his best bud Aech (Lena Waithe), he winds up teaming with Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Zhou (Phillip Zhao), and Daito (Win Morisaki) to form the High Five, watching one another’s backs as they compete to win, literally, the keys to the kingdom.

Spielberg, along with screenwriters Cline and Zak Penn, take tremendous liberties with the narrative, collapsing story arcs, narrowing the scope of the Oasis, and showing much more of the real world than the novel attempted. Some of this is fine as it lets us see how squalid life has become and how tempting the Oasis can be but it’s all surface. Similarly, the High Five are largely reduced to hangers-on with little attention paid to developing them into characters. The exception is Art3mis, who in some ways feels more complex and interesting than Parzival which may be why Spielberg cast Cooke first.

All too often, the cultural touchstones are there in a blink-and-you-miss-them blur with exceptions being King Kong, Mechagodzilla, and the Iron Giant (substituting for Japan’s Ultra-Man which I was really looking forward to seeing). Warners wanted to avoid the Blade Runner riffs since they had their sequel in production at the same time so Penn and Cline used Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining as a substitute and it works quite well here.

What works less well are the conventional movie storytelling aspects, notably in the final quarter of the film where the constant ticking clock is repetitive and annoying.

Overall, the movie is good but nowhere near as engaging as I had hoped but Spielberg does manage to add some nice tenderness to Halliday and his one-time partner Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg).

The film is offered in a variety of combinations including the ever-popular Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD code package. The High Definition transfer is crisp and clear, which a film like this demands. Warner comes through, matching it with a wonderful Dolby Atmos soundtrack.

The packaging insists there are fun Easter Eggs scattered throughout the disc but I didn’t go hunting. I do note there is no commentary or deleted scenes, both would have been welcome. We do get the following Special Features:

Game Changer: Cracking the Code, a lengthy look at casting, costuming, set construction, and more (what’s missing is an honest conversation about which properties they didn’t get and other changes that had to be made); Effects for a Brave New World, the special effects gets its due here; Level Up: Sound for the Future, a nice look at the sound effects creation for the many layers, High Score: Endgame, spotlights Alan Silvestri, subbing for John Williams in his first ever-collaboration with Spielberg; Ernie & Tye’s Excellent Adventure, writer and star bond in Austin prior to the film’s debut in March; and, The ’80’s: You’re The Inspiration, the crew talk about how the era was deserving of a fresh look.

Book-A-Day 2018 #203: The Cartoon Guide to Physics by Larry Gonick and Art Huffman

If you had asked me “is physics more interesting than history?,” I’d probably have to think about it. Both are fascinating in their own ways, full of convoluted intricate stuff that’s fun to learn about or think through. It wouldn’t be obvious at all.

So when I saw that Larry Gonick, author of multiple volumes of The Cartoon History of the Universe (and its follow-up, ...of the Modern World ) had a book called The Cartoon Guide to Physics , created with physics teacher Art Huffman, I thought that was a book for me.

(And then it sat on my shelf for at least a decade, because that’s what always happens.)

I finally read it recently, and it reminded me of something I learned back when I worked in publishing: a truism that I wanted not to be true but, eventually, accepted that definitely was.

The truism is this: Every equation in a book reduces its potential audience by half.

The Cartoon Guide to Physics has eight equations in the first chapter alone.

So this is a book primarily for people seriously interested in learning physics — not learning about physics, or science in general, or general knowledge. It’s for people who want to start with F=ma, understand what that means, and go on from there. My guess is that it’s primarily used on the highschool level, and I could see it being a lot of fun for students who are learning this stuff anyway — it’s definitely more interesting and dynamic than a textbook.

But it’s much less interesting and dynamic than, say, a random graphic novel, which is what it might be shelved next to. So if you pick up a Gonick Cartoon Guide book, take a look inside it — they can vary a lot.

This one is divided into two large sections — the first covers Mechanics, with the laws of motion, starting with speed and acceleration and moving on to cover orbits, momentum, gravity, inertia, collisions, and rotation (and several dozen equations). The second half of the book is Electricity and Magnetism, which has slightly fewer equations but just as many numbers and technical details.

I read this book casually, which really isn’t the point. You should read each page carefully, think through the equations and implications, and only move on once it all makes sense to you. (I’m going to pretend that I already knew all of this stuff, and that’s why I read it straight through. Yeah. That’s the ticket.)

Gonick draws this is in a very loose, expressive style, and his main characters this time are a young woman (who is unnamed as far as I could see) and a Gonick-esque mustachioed man called Ringo. Like his other books, it’s not really comics — there are drawings on the page, but there’s also a lot of words, mostly arranged in block around them, and the drawings only rarely form a sequence of action. But it’s a first cousin of comics, and could be of interest to comics people for that reason. But the primary audience, again, is people trying to seriously learn physics, either as part of a regular course of study or just for themselves.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Book-A-Day 2018 #202: Saga of the Swamp Thing by Alan Moore and various artists (6 volumes)

I wouldn’t say that all of modern mainstream comics comes from Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. Frank Miller’s work on Daredevil and The Dark Knight was just as influential, alongside the Claremont X-Men and the event frenzy kick-started by the Wolfman/Perez Crisis. And there have certainly been major developments in the thirty years since then. But our modern adventure-story comics world was formed in those days of the mid-80s when the Direct Market was strong and growing, when the outside world was reading “comics are growing up” stories every few months (with new examples each time), and the expectations of both readers and publishers started to bend to shocking revelations and long story arcs and Worlds That Would Never Be the Same. And that world was strongly molded by Alan Moore, starting with Swamp Thing in late 1983.

Thirty-plus years later, those Moore stories are both shockingly modern and shockingly old-fashioned: cold-eyed about humanity and the place of superbeings alongside it, but utterly besotted with their own wordy narration. These are intensely told stories: Moore in the ’80s was the culmination of Silver Age style, all captions and explanations and background and atmosphere, cramming all of his ideas and poetic descriptions into each twenty-three page issue, exhausting every concept as soon as he introduced it.

Swamp Thing, the character, was a scientist named Alec Holland, working on a “bio-restorative formula” with his also-scientist wife in what looked like a barn deep in the Louisiana marshes. (This all made sense in the early 1970s, when ecology and back-to-the-land were huge.) The usual evil forces of international business sabotaged his work: his wife was killed and Alec, permeated with the formula and burning to death from an explosion, fell into the swamp. He arose, a few days later, as the slow-talking Swamp Thing, to stop those evil businessmen and battle weird menaces around the world for at least the duration of the early-70s horror boom. His first comics series ended after 24 issues of slowly dwindling sales and quickly increasing gimmicks to try to reverse the sales drop, and was revived about a decade later when a cheap movie adaptation came out. The same slow-death started setting in, with similar results, and the second series began to look like it would run only about as long as the first.

And then Alan Moore took over writing what was then Saga of the Swamp Thing from Martin Pasko with issue #20. His first outing was a clean-up effort, tying off “Loose Ends” from the Pasko run, like a concert pianist running a few scales to warm up before diving into the meat of the program. A month later, he delivered one of the most influential and iconic single issues of any comic, “The Anatomy Lesson,” where he carefully explained that Swamp Thing’s origin and explanation made no sense whatsoever, and started the path to what he declared was a better foundation for the character. (He was right, and he shouldn’t be blamed that a thousand others have tried to do the same thing to a thousand other characters since then, with not necessarily the same level of rigor or success.)

Before long, the title had simplified to Swamp Thing — the same as that original Len Wein/Bernie Wrightson series a decade before — grown the tag-line “Sophisticated Suspense,” and quietly become the first Big Two comic to ditch the Comics Code seal. It was also a huge hit, both critically and commercially. By the time Moore ended his run on Swamp Thing with #64, almost four years later, the Crisis had come and gone, he was in the middle of Watchmen, and the landscape of American comics had been radically changed.

(As a sidebar, it’s interesting to note that the editor on those early Moore Swamp Thing issues was Wein himself — it’s a fantastic example of a creator nurturing stories that reinterpret, even replace, the work he did earlier.)

That Swamp Thing run was one of the first to be collected in a comprehensive way soon after periodical publication, as the comics industry started to realize what the book industry had known for several generations: a creative property you can keep selling in a fixed form for years is vastly more valuable than creative properties that you need to refresh every month. The complete Alan Moore run is currently available as six trade paperbacks, under the overall title The Saga of the Swamp Thing , reprinting all forty-five issues with introductions by various people. (Not including Moore, though, as anyone who has heard about his contentious relationship with DC Comics since will expect.) If you’re looking for those books individually, have some links: one , two , three , four , five , six .

The first thing to note is that the divisions between books generally make sense: they each collect eight issues, except Book Five has only six, and they tend to break at important moments. This is partially an artifact of comics-storytelling norms of the time: then, a three-issue story was an epic, and anything longer than that was remarkable. (Of course, subplots would run longer than that — I mentioned Claremont up top, and he’s one of the major originators of the throw-in-hints-of-the-next-four-stories-in-each-issue plotting style — but the actual conflict in any issue would be done within fifty or seventy pages nearly all the time.) But Swamp Thing also tended to run to story arcs, more and more as Moore wrote it; it’s one of the origins of that now-common structure. So it’s partially luck, partially planning, and partially the nature of these stories that makes them break down as cleanly as they do into volumes. It means that a reader can come to this series thirty years later — it’s now impossible to come to it any earlier, if you haven’t already — and take it one book at a time, as her interest is piqued. (Or you can run through all of them quickly, as I did.)

Book One leads off with #20, “Loose Ends” — not generally included in Swamp Thing reprints for the first decade or so, as DC presumably wanted to start with the bigger bang of “The Anatomy Lesson” — and runs through the continuation of that story with Jason Woodrue and then a three-part story featuring Jack Kirby’s The Demon. These are the foundational stories, in which Moore resets everything about the series: tone, cast, mood, atmosphere, even genre. (There were horror elements in the earlier stories, obviously, but Moore moved it definitively from “superhero story with horror villains” to “horror story with a muckmonster hero.”) The Woodrue story also has a nice cameo by the Justice League, cementing Swampy’s place in the “real” DC Universe. Swamp Thing, and the Vertigo imprint that eventually grew out of it, would have a complicated relationship with that continuity over the next few decades — as that continuity itself got more complex and self-referential, in part driven by the work Moore did here and other writers did in a similar vein — but, when it began, it was just the weird corner of the same universe.

Book Two is anchored by the return of Anton Arcane, Swampy’s greatest villain, who Moore made even more infernal as he threw Arcane into Hell and brought him (briefly) back. I’m not sure if this is the first time we get an extended look at DC Comics Hell — there were a bunch of vaguely Satanic comics in the ’70s, though mostly on the Marvel side — but Moore’s vision of Hell, as amplified and extended a few years later by Neil Gaiman in the early issues of Sandman, was the model for DC for a generation from this point. This second book also has the first visual breaks from the main look for the Moore run: the majority of the early Moore issues are pencilled by Stephen Bissette and inked by John Totleben, but they have a very detailed, intricate style and Swamp Thing also tended to have heavily designed pages — which all added up to mean that getting twenty-three pages done, at that level and in that style, tended to take longer than the month between issues. So this volume has two issues drawn by Shawn McManus: the first a coda to the storyline of the first volume, the second a homage to Walt Kelly’s Pogo. And another issue reprinted here brings back Cain and Abel, the mystery hosts from DC’s horror-anthology comics of the early ’70s, in a framing story drawn by Ron Randall to showcase the original short “Swamp Thing” comic by Wein and Wrightson that served as a tryout and model for the ’70s series.

Book Three is the bulk of the “American Gothic” storyline, introducing John Constantine — who has gone on to fame on his own, with a very long-running comic and a movie that was at least higher-budget than any of Swampy’s — and sending Swampy cross-country to see and confront growing horrors in the world: nuclear waste, racism, sexism, and (of course) aquatic vampires. Here the art continues to move around a small team: Rick Veitch pencils one issue (he also helped out on some pages in two issues in the first volume), Alfredo Alcala inks another, and Stan Woch pencils a third. The team is clearly moving resources around to maintain a consistent visual look and at the same time maintain that punishing monthly deadline. These stories are the heart of Swamp Thing as a horror comic: Moore is taking individual concerns of the then-modern world (mostly; the aquatic vampires aren’t particularly emblematic of anything) and showing how they can be twisted and made horrible.

Book Four finishes up “American Gothic,” which leads into the double whammy of Crisis and Swamp Thing‘s own fiftieth issue, which was explicitly positioned in the story as a crisis after the Infinite Earths one. (Evil South American wizards — the same ones mentioned in Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia , which I coincidentally read recently — knew the whole “worlds will live, worlds will die” thing was coming, and planned to summon Primordial Darkness to take over Heaven in the tumult.) This is one of Moore’s largest-scale stories, and from that era when he aspired to write big superhero-universe crossovers: Watchmen started out that way, and the aborted Twilight of the Superheroes project from 1987 was an even bigger take on the same idea. So Swampy almost becomes a supporting character in his own book, with the Demon and the Phantom Stranger and Deadman and the Spectre and Dr. Fate and John Constantine with a roomfull of minor DC magicians all demanding their time in the spotlight. It does all come together, and tells a strong story — even if the ending is strangely muted, with characters explicitly saying things like:

Happened? Nothing has happened. Everything has happened. Can’t you feel it? Everywhere things look the same, but the feeling…the feeling is different.”

One can admire Moore’s writing and plotting and still think this is a remarkably deflating denouement.

Book Five is another group of transitional stories. First, because the art team switches to Veitch and Alcala, except for one issue in the middle drawn entirely by Totleben. And, more importantly, because it moves from the aftermath of the “spiritual Crisis” through the arrest and prosecution of Swampy’s girlfriend Abby in Gotham City — and Swampy’s subsequent assault on that city through a massive green-ification project — before Swampy sets off, unexpectedly and not by choice, on his next story arc. At the risk of spoiling thirty-five year old stories, he’s catapulted off into space, where he needs to learn how to modulate his wavelengths (more or less) to get back home.

And Book Six is when he does so. By this time, Moore was also working on Watchmen, and was getting to the point where he’d nearly said all he wanted to say with Swamp Thing. So this last volume has stories explicitly planned as transitions to the story-sequence that would follow: Rick Veitch would take over writing (on top of pencilling), and so he writes one story here. Bissette writes another, a sidebar set back on Earth, in which Abby is reunited, for one last time, with her ill-fated father. One issue has a quite experimental art style from Totleben, all chilly mecanico-organic forms, and the big conclusion is something of a jam issue, with art from nearly everyone who contributed to the Moore run: Bissette, original Saga penciller Tom Yeates, Veitch, and Alcala, under a Totleben cover.

It all ends on a happy note: Swampy is back where he belongs, having learned more about himself and the universe and having found something like peace. If the series had ended there, it would have been an ending — but popular comics didn’t end in 1987 just because they had a good place to do so.

Instead, the next month there was a Veitch-Alcala issue, launching a new plot arc. Veitch continued the concerns and manner of the Moore run — though with somewhat less of the overwrought narration, which was becoming outmoded even in the late ’80s — but ran afoul of DC brass a little over a year later, during a time-travel storyline that was to culminate with Swampy meeting a certain religious leader in Roman-occupied Palestine.

But that’s all another story: a story not collected in the books I’m writing about here, and in fact never collected, since it was cancelled and twisted and broken in the process.

Moore wrote forty-three issues of Swamp Thing over a four-year period, including at least three double-length issues (and, again, Veitch and Bissette also each contributed one script as part of the overall plot line). He worked with a team that ended up being fairly large — Bissette, Totleben, Veitch, and Alcala most of the time, McManus and Randall and Yeates and Dan Day stepping in here and there. But the whole thing does hang together — it’s not quite one story, but it’s a closely related cluster of stories, with consistent themes and concerns, that took a fairly conventional “weird hero” and turned him and his world into something new and strange in American comics.

Others have built on this foundation since then: most obviously, Neil Gaiman with Sandman, who got the luxury of a real ending and who was able to take a stronger hand at choosing art teams to go with specific story sequences. But Sandman could not have happened without the Moore Swamp Thing, as a thousand other comics could not have happened — all of Vertigo, for example, and most of what Image currently publishes, and Mike Mignola’s Hellboy universe, among many others.

Modern readers might find the Moore Swamp Thing much wordier than they expect: he was the last great Silver Age writer, a decade or two out of his time, when he wrote these comics. They’re all good words, deployed well and to strong effect — but we have to admit there are a lot of them. The coloring is also clearly ’80s vintage: very strong for its time, and pushing the limits of what could be done with newsstand comics in those days long before desktop publishing, but still clearly more limited and bold than what we’re used to today.

All those things are inherent in reading older stories. And all stories are “older” before too long. The strong stories are worth the effort — frankly, even new strong stories require some effort, since that’s one of the main things that makes them strong.

You should read the Alan Moore Swamp Thing, if you have any interest in comics or horror or superhero universes or ecology in literature or spirituality or transcendence. If you’re not interested in any of those things, well, it sounds like a dull life, but good luck with it.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.